Fitting in

So I haven’t written much about the new house, or the new neighborhood or Isa’s new school or much of anything really (except you know what). And even though I’m desperate for my period to finally get here already and put me out of my misery, and despite being totally bulldozed today at a school picnic by all the families in Isa’s class that are either pregnant or already have a second child, I’m going to write about something else that family building today. Hallelujah! ‘Tis a miracle to be sure.

So, I don’t think I’ve written much here about my old neighborhood. I certainly talked a lot of shit about my old apartment (all of it true, by the way) but I didn’t say a ton about the neighborhood we lived in. Let’s just say that in all the ways my apartment sucked, my neighborhood was AMAZEBALLS. Truly, it made living in that moldy crap hole of an apartment worth it for all those years.

I planned on writing an ode to my old neighborhood on my new blog. I took a ton of pictures in the final weeks, and I have it mostly outlined in my head. I really do hope that I write that post because I want some kind of record of how much I loved it there. Honestly, I don’t think I really realized how much it meant to me until I left. And it’s not like I spend my days pining after it, but when I got back there, the missing of it hits me like a wave, knocking me on my ass and thrusting salt water up my nose and nether regions. Again, it’s a visceral experience that leaves me breathless and confused. I just wasn’t expecting it to be such a hard transition.

Of course then I walk back into my old apartment (we finally returned the keys today, and since they’re completely remodeling, we get all our deposit back! YAY!) and remember how much I HATE IT and honestly, even after just a week in the new house, that old place felt just awful to be in, so small and cramped and SMELLY. (Oh, the mold!) God, that apartment was a dump.

But man, that neighborhood was amazing. Ah the ping pong, back and forth.

Of course, there was one part of that neighborhood that was not as amazing. And this is going to be kind of hard to explain, and at first you might not understand. Maybe you’ll never really understand, but I’ll try my best to explain myself.

You see, the thing that wasn’t so great about that neighborhood was the people in. It wasn’t any specific person, or group of people. Actually, it wasn’t even the people, per se, it was more how I felt around the people. In fact, most of you would probably think the population of my old neighborhood was ideal. I mean, it was full of well-off, mostly white people living the upper-middle class urban family dream. It was where people went when they had arrived at the door step of everything wonderful in their life.

You see, these are the kind of people that have everything, or close to it. They would park their BMWs in their garages (the garage is the impressive part of that setup by the way, not the BMW) and push their (multiple) kids in UppaBaby strollers (not the $200 umbrella stroller–which I will admit my in-laws bought for me–but the other $1000+ models) to $3,000/mo half day preschools and then go out to eat at some shnazzy restaurant where sushi costs $25 a roll. Oh, and they’d be wearing some ridiculously priced high fashion attire while they did it.

These were the kinds of people that lived in my neighborhood. Well, it was them and the young 20’s somethings who were willing to spend 3/4 of their income to rent just a tiny room in the middle of everything awesome that the city has to offer (that was exactly who I was when I moved in, by the way).

I didn’t really think much of all of that when I was fresh out of college, signing the lease on that place with my girl friend, but later, as a mother strolling around with my child, I felt very much like I didn’t belong. It was so clear to me that I could only live there because I enjoyed (thanks to rent control) paying way below market value for my place. If I had shown up in that neighborhood when I had my daughter I would have left with my tail (and checkbook) between my legs.

Our new neighborhood is very much inhabited by “our people.” These are lower middle class families trying to get by. Everyone has someone living in an apartment behind their garage, using the rent to pay the mortgage (just as we will be doing). Everyone is driving some beat up car that doesn’t look pretty but will get them to work. Everyone is working most of every day, living their lives one pay check to another.

Oh, and almost nobody is white. Well that is probably not true, but it seems that way at times. And I kind of love it.

I’m not saying this neighborhood is perfect, far from it. There is a reason we can afford to buy a house where we did. We are VERY close to the freeway, and you can hear the din of traffic from our backyard (but we have a backyard!). The houses aren’t as nice out here and people don’t have the extra cash to dress them up all fancy. Sometimes the people don’t have the cash to fix up their cars, so they just sit on raisers in their drive ways.

And then there is the weather. San Francisco weather generally sucks, but the weather out by our new place? It REALLY SUCKS. The first week at our new place the fog was so bad, you could literally see it blowing right past you 24 hours a day. There were many moments where I had to fight back that terrible suspicion that “Oh god, we made a horrible mistake.” The sun has managed to peak through more frequently in the past weeks but dwelling in the frigid wind and fog will take some getting used to.

It also doesn’t help that I can look north and see the sun shining over our old neighborhood.

But then I look around and see the people and think YES, THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.

It’s the same at Isa’s school. There are two main reasons we picked Isa’s school (besides the fact that it’s Spanish Immersion): 1) It is relatively affordable and 2) it is open 8am to 6pm, to accomodate working parents.

And that is who brings their kids to Isa’s school, working parents who are just trying to make it work. None of the moms there are stay at home moms (at least none of the moms in Isa’s class, because let’s face it, no SAHM is going to send their two year old to all-day child care). And it’s not that I have anything against SAHM (my best friend is a SAHM and she ROCKS) my point is just that to be a SAHM you need to have a certain amount of financial security that we just don’t have (or the combined child care for your children needs to cost more than your salary would sustain, but even then, you still have to be able to AFFORD staying home somehow, and I just can’t relate to that.) There is something really validating about dropping my kid off and knowing that the other parents I see there are dropping their kids off for the exact same reasons I am.

Today there was a school picnic at a playground near Isa’s school. I would say about half of the families from Isa’s class attended. It was so cute to see her run up to all the kids and know them by name. She was so excited to see them all.

It was also really fun to meet the parents. I can honestly say that I really enjoyed every person I met. In fact, we all enjoyed each other so much we’re going to keep in touch and have get togethers with our kids. I will admit, I was surprised at how well I got along with all these parents. I had so many horrible “mommy group” experiences when Isa was a newborn that I kind of gave up on the whole “finding other parents that we liked” idea. And as I was wondering what it was about this group that made me feel so at home, I was again reminded of how important it is to feel like you come from the same place, that your lives are similar, that you “get” each other. So many of the families lived near us (our new house is less than a mile from Isa’s school), and there is a reason we all live out where we live, in the fog, far away from the hustle and bustle of shiny downtown. We’re all just families, working super hard to get by, making sacrifices to provide for our families and feeling guilty when we have to do that. And even though my new neighborhood isn’t as sunny or colorful as the old one, it still feels a lot more like home.

(I want to make clear that I don’t need for everyone I spend time with to be in the same economic class as my own, I have friends from all different earning levels. I just find it easier to relate with people who have a similar life experience to mine. I think that is true of most humans.)

6 responses

  1. I’m so excited that you found parents you really like! And a bit jealous, I must say. I have never found that in 4 years: a big group of cool parents who are on a similar path. I have friends who are mostly outliers. That sounds really great.

    Your old neighborhood was very fabulous and posh. Tis true. It was also trendy and hipster in that strange moneyed way. I can see how living there would be frustrating yet cool.

    I can’t wait to see your new place!!!!

  2. Oh yay, that sounds perfect (for you, if a nightmare for me, surrounded by all those families!) and I’m really happy at the way you sound there. Great house, great neighbourhood. It’s impossible to judge the weather on only a few weeks, but whatever it is, you’ll get used to it (says someone living in a place where the weather REALLY sucks).

  3. In my case, zero marketable skills+living in the boondocks+outrageous gas prices+the cost of childcare=I stay home. We’re poor but it is what it is. I don’t need stinkin’ cable.

    Interesting observations, I think I felt out of place when I first moved to the city, but very soon it became Home. After moving back to not the city, I feel, not out of place exactly but certainly not as at home in the city. It’s an ongoing adjustment.

  4. I found this post so interesting, and even more interesting that I found myself feeling wistful as I read it. I live in a suburban area that has a lot of wealth. Although my particular neighborhood isn’t ritzy, we are surrounded by neighborhoods with $800k+ houses (mansions where I live- the cost of living is a lot lower here, and the only reason I am able to be a SAHM). For the most part everyone drives nice, new cars and has a lot of expendable income. A lot of times I find myself wishing that we lived in an area that wasn’t so wealthy, and that every home I went into didn’t look like a magazine. I hope you will find peace in your new neighborhood and new circle knowing that there are a LOT of people out there who struggle just like you do. I don’t have that right now for the most part. I am so glad you met some other parents from Isa’s school that you connect with- hopefully those relationships will build throughout the coming months.

  5. I think I know how you feel, although I’m not sure I’ve found my perfect place yet. I never quite feel that I fit in in those ritzy neighborhoods, although the parents there tend to share my elite education and advanced degrees, but not my day-to-day life. In my current neighborhood, our day-to-day lives are more similar, but most moms I meet seem to be single moms who got pregnant accidentally at age 21. Not too many people have been to college. I do feel like we’re in the right town for us, but I wonder if there’s somewhere out there I would really fit in. Glad you’ve found one, though!

  6. “I just find it easier to relate with people who have a similar life experience to mine. I think that is true of most humans.”

    I agree with this statement. Sure, you can relate to all sorts of people, but socioeconomics play a big role in your ability to relate. We were the first in our group of friends to have a baby and we had to find some new friends who could relate to that. Gone were the days of just going out whenever we felt like it, and our friends without kids didn’t understand that. I think it’s totally normal to relate BEST with people who are similar to you in life experiences and lifestyle. That doesn’t mean we can’t relate to people who are different in those way – just not as well.

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